We are now well-used to seeing lady jockeys on the racecourse. Most of us even accept them as being just another jockey. A lesser number even view them, because of their weight advantage and because as a species males are becoming urbanised and flabby, as the future of the profession. Yet in the grand history of the sport the lady jockey is a relatively recent phenomena.
But who was the first lady flat jockey? Who came before Alex Greaves, Lorna Vincent or Meriel Tufnel?
Her name is Alicia Thornton. She may or may not be a distant relative of Andrew or Robert ‘Choc’, though if she is they may want to disassociate themselves from her.
Depending on which report you read she was either married to Colonel Thornton or was his mistress and Captain Flint, the other protagonist in her story, was perhaps her brother-in-law. She rose to notoriety in the early 1800’s when she married Colonel Thornton, of Thornville Royal in Yorkshire, not far from the present York racecourse.
The marriage was a union of convenience, it is considered. In John Steven’s book on the history of York racecourse she is described at the time as ‘somewhat lacking in pretty virginities’, with a personality that left hysterical excitement and near-catastrophe in her wake.
She rode, as a woman of virtue and breeding would do, side-saddle, and thought highly of her attributes as a horsewoman. It is said while riding in the countryside that for fun Alicia and Captain Flint raced their respective horses, with Alicia coming out the winner. Whether it was because of this loss of face that determined Flint to challenge Alicia to a proper race on a proper racecourse or whether Alicia in order to keep his desire of her at arm’s length she challenged him to the 4-mile match race on the Knavesmire is an issue for debate. The prize, though, 500 guineas, would not be insignificant today, in the early 1800’s it must have seemed preposterous for Colonel Thornton to bet on a woman, albeit his pretty wife, to win a race against a man. It is said the match was the talk of the town, if not the country, with more people making their way to York to watch the spectacle than on the day Eclipse raced over the course.
At the time horse racing was not the only draw at Knavesmire which was famous, perhaps that should be infamous, for the gallows above the racecourse and hangings, with drawing and quartering thrown in for extra entertainment, as much part of the racing experience as cock-fights and general scandalous behaviour. York then was the absolute opposite to the York of today.
Alicia rode in a dress that was considered by the fashionistas of the period as tasteful yet practical, with a silk blouse and jockey cap. And she led the race for three miles until her horse broke down and she had to pull up, leaving Captain Flint to reap, or so he expected, the prize money.
Alicia was not a woman for taking unlucky defeat gracefully. She reacted angrily to a report of the race in a local paper that suggested Captain Flint had ‘paid every attention to her’, calling her the ‘beautiful heroine’. In her letter of reply she told the editor in clear terms that she had not allowed Flint any consideration and that he was nothing but rude to her. She even described Flint as unsporting as he continued to ride furiously even though her horse was obviously lame.
It is said that before Alicia came on to the scene Colonel Thornton and Captain Flint were firm friends and that in choosing the greater wealth of the Colonel over his ‘great love’ Alicia had caused him heartache and loss of face. This would suggest Alicia and Flint were not in-laws, though having watched Poldark and Austen on the television and with love and desire not restricted by social barriers this in not necessarily so.
Her pride dented Alicia demanded a re-match but her husband wouldn’t settle his account over the first match and Flint declined the invitation and as time went on and the money remained unforthcoming he laid into Thornton with a horse-whip and as a result ended up in jail, lessening even further his hope of receiving the 1,000 guineas he was owed.
Alicia’s adventures on the turf did not end with Flint, however and after lowering the colours of a Mr.Bronfield she challenged professional jockey Frank Buckle to a match across the Knavesmire and again many thousands of people made their way to view first-hand the audacious derring-do of the lady jockey. So intriguing was Alicia’s daring challenge that people slept in hedgerows and woods to get a front-row seat.
Alicia’s horse carried 9st 6lbs, whereas Buckle’s was burdened with 4-stone more. She won by a neck. Rightly claimed a heroine and with her reputation as a horsewoman of distinction enhanced she departed the turf forever, no doubt escorted by someone other than her husband or Captain Flint. Their argument went to the stewards of the Jockey Club and then to the High Court without any resolution to their dispute and both died in poorer states of health and wealth than before they met, and perhaps fell in love with, Alicia Thornton, the last female jockey on the turf until the sanctioning of what was considered to be novelty races confined to women in 1972.
Perhaps to commemorate the achievement of Alicia Thornton in beating a leading professional Hayley Turner, riding side-saddle and in a flowing silk dress, might challenge Luke Harvey, giving her 4-stone, to a race across today’s Knavesmire?
The racing world can move quickly at times. Too quick for a natural slow-coach with a lot on his plate to keep tabs with. So a bit of catching-up is required.
I do not approve of the B.H.B.’s decision to disallow entry to the Derby and other top races to any horse they consider a no-hoper. This edict determines the ending of Foinavon-like fairy tale triumphs and simply make it easier for the big stables to farm the top races. Of course to protect the big stables they will not include pacemakers in this ‘no-hoper’ category, even though pacemakers have as little hope of winning as horses rated too low to be allowed entry into the race. Also, no-hopers are normally ridden out the back in hope of running past tiring horses and achieve finishing close enough to earn some prize money, whereas pacemakers by definition lead the race and when tired fall back through the pack causing, invariably, traffic problems for horses coming from behind.
To my mind the situation would be better tackled by imposing a sliding scale of entry fees whereby it costs less to run a top-rated horse in the Derby than a lowly rated horse. If it cost ten times the amount to run a ‘no-hoper’ than a favourite this might be all that is required to deter the fairy-tale seekers. Also, though as the big owners have money to burn I doubt it, it might persuade trainers to run their Derby hopes more often so as to boost their rating and bring down the cost of running for their owners.
Born out of the furore caused by one owner wishing to have a runner in the 2017 Derby the B.H.B. has created a hornets nest of debate that can only have a negative effect for racing. As of now they have not changed the situation whereby a jockey with minimal experience can ride in races like the Derby, a situation more fraught with danger than a lowly-rated horse could ever cause. I suggest they look to the conditions of the Grand National where, I believe, a jockey must have ridden 15 winners before they can ride in the race.
The scourge of non-runners is a situation created by the B.H.B. when they allowed trainers to ‘self-certificate’. Surely they should have known that some trainers would take advantage of the situation. It’s only human nature, after all to try to win an advantage.
Apart from the major races, where betting turnover is important, I see no merit in 48-hour declarations and believe the ‘scourge of non-runners’ would be better solved if they reverted to the 24-hour system still in place for National Hunt. In my opinion the B.H.B., rather like whatever political party is in government, create more problems by tinkering than if they left well alone. I sometimes think the B.H.B. should ask Mark Johnston and John Gosden their opinions on any topic of debate and when they agree do that.
You only have to go through the history of their attempts to get the whip rules sorted out to realise how uninspiring their decision making is at times.
The Shergar Cup.
A great idea that is in need of expansion. 10 runner fields when with a little imagination each race could have the magic sixteen. 4 teams is not enough. 6 or 7 would make the day far more interesting. Team 1. British. Team 2. Irish. Team 3 European. Team 4 Rest of the World. Team 5 Girls. Team 6 Male Apprentices. Team 7 Female Apprentices.
Maths are not my strong suit and 16 may well not be the magic number but I am certain that something on the lines of the above will make for much more exciting racing. Also, with larger fields the concept of a I.T.V. 7 type bet could be invented for the day and promoted throughout the betting industry, with a slice of the pooled bets going to Racehorse Rehabilitation charities.
ere to edit.
What a sorry world we live in when someone as obviously lovely as Hayley Turner must tolerate on-line abuse. Indeed so prevalent is the abuse that not only has she come to expect it but it is now a source of humour amongst her family.
Of course I do not know her personally and I dare say in real life she is perhaps not as lovely as I imagine. She may well be deadly accurate with the flying tea-cup. Or she might send fools packing with a cocktail of the good old-fashioned rude and blasphemous. Away from the public eye she may even have a tendency toward airs and graces whilst sipping gin straight from the bottle. But I doubt it.
She has also attracted criticism for returning to the saddle, as if she is setting some sort or precedent, as if no other jockeys have retired and then manoeuvred themselves a U-turn.
Along with George Baker’s recovery from near death, Hayley’s return to the saddle is the best news flat racing has had this season. She is, and I believe this to be true, flat racing’s biggest name after Frankie Dettori and it is only a pity her full-time return to the saddle will be in France this winter and not in competition with Josie Gordon around the artificial surfaces of this country, with the added possibility that a French gigolo might play footsie with her heart.
It must be remembered that racing and female jockeys in particular owe Hayley not only respect but a sense of debt. While the undoubted talents of Cathy Gannon went largely unappreciated, Hayley was the pioneer who opened up the routes to prominence that both the present band of female jockeys and those who will follow in their wake can now navigate with far less prejudice attached to their gender. Because of Hayley’s achievements and personality, Josie Gordon can, if supported, win classics or even become champion jockey and her achievements will propel the sport on to the front covers of magazines and daily newspapers around the world.
As I licensed jockey she is also a great asset to an I.T.V. racing team that continue to provide racing with the best television coverage its history. Standing alongside ex-jockeys she is a link to the racing of seasons past. Visiting racing yards to ride out horses that will run in the big races is something I.T.V. should have Hayley do more often as it gives the viewer an inside view of a racing yard that only the privileged get to see. Indeed allowing the viewer to see jockeys as horseman, as men and women who not only enjoy riding horses but also care about their well-being, can only be of positive benefit in promoting the sport. Now she is settled in front of the cameras Hayley’s humour and knowledge is beginning to surface on a regular basis and slowly but surely she is becoming a safe pair of hands.
What has amused me since her U-turn is the praise she has attracted from trainers who if they had supported her more fully when she was a full-time jockey might have given her optimism to carry on and not pushed her into premature retirement in the first place. Not that Hayley would agree with my criticism as she is the sort of person (too nice) to always see the other persons view. But life’s experiences are all for a reason and now, I suspect, she is far happier with her life-work balance.
For a while I thought she was on the tele but as a jockey she was in the past but along with Gordon, Doyle and many other females, I hope, she is now forging a path that will secure a better future for flat racing.
So saddoes, if you figure in that number, leave the woman alone and allow her natural charm and overload of loveliness be the asset to racing that it truly is.
The recent Charlie McBride cock-up at Yarmouth though not a direct comparison to the 1844 Derby Scandal did at least revive my interest in the subject. McBride could not distinguish between a 2-year-old from his stable and a three-year-old, whereas the Derby scandal involved a four-year-old running as a three-year-old.
The difficulty in understanding the racing scene in 1844 is that both society and the sport of horse racing is so different today. In those days it was not unknown for classic winners to subsequently run in races like the City and Suburban Handicap or the Cambridgeshire, a highly unlikely occurrence today. Back then Match races were still being arranged, with betting between individual owners a key focus of the sport, with dirty tricks and foul practice commonplace.
From today’s perspective the Running Rein Scandal is rather implausible, reading like the plot of a Sherlock Holmes adventure. At the heart of the fraud is the mind of a cunning and unscrupulous genius by the name of Abraham Levi Goodman, a man whose expertise in turf skulduggery is said to be without parallel. He was variously described as head of a gang of criminals, a nightclub owner, a gentleman and farm-owner. But his greatest occupation was that of professional gambler.
The Running Rein Scandal is a convoluted business involving any number of people, locations and even horses. The term tangled web does not do the story justice and for anyone wishing to gain a full insight into the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in turf history I suggest Tony Byles’ excellent book ‘In Search of Running Rein’, though to follow with any degree of clarity the chapter devoted to the subsequent trial a working knowledge of British law in the Victorian era is required.
In short Goodman began the fraud in 1842, and it is the longevity of the germination of the fraud that perplexes me. No one can foretell who will win the following year’s Derby yet we are asked to believe that Goodman attempted to orchestrate the winner of the 1844 race fully eighteen-months beforehand.
Three horses, or perhaps four – as I said it is a convoluted business – were involved in the fraud. Goneaway, Maccabeus, Running Rein and possibly Leander, a runner in the 1844 race and who was also subject to objection as he too was thought to be older than three-years. Goodman leased Goneaway, though a year younger than Maccabeus, as in size and colour he matched Maccabeus, and ran under the name of the older horse as a two-year-old.
As I previously said Goodman began his chicanery in 1842 when he had Running Rein, who was really Maccabeus, entered for what was then the important Clearwell Stakes at the 2nd October meeting at Newmarket in 1843 and for the 1844 Two-Thousand Guineas. To complicate any possible ‘paper trail’ Goodman, it seems, deliberately had Running Rein (Maccabeus) moved from stable to stable until finally reaching trainer Henry Higgins. Later, perhaps in a calculated strategy to distance himself from the unfolding fraud, he sold the horse to an acquaintance, Alexander Woods.
Quite where the real Running Rein was during this time is speculation. Certainly the owner of Goneaway wanted nothing to do with Goodman’s plan and once the lease on the horse expired returned him to Ireland, though sadly the horse suffered an atrocious sea-crossing and died. One suspects if Goodman did not have a hand in inducing sickness in the horse Goneaway’s death was at the very least convenient.
When researching this story the aspect I find difficult to understand is where the evidence could be found to suggest that Running Rein (Maccabeus), other than age, was a certainty for the Derby. Surely certainty was what was required to reap the rewards of such meticulous planning. Running Rein ‘won’ the Epsom Derby on May 22nd. He had not run as a ‘three-year-old’ and twice as a two-year-old, winning a sweepstake at Newmarket in October and the following day ran 2nd in the Clearwell Stakes. Nowhere in the storyline is it stated that Maccabeus, the real Running Rein, was catching pigeons on the gallops.
To further make hazardous Goodman’s large investment The Derby of 1844 consisted of 29 runners and even if you assume the plan involved Running Rein being up with the pace from the get-go and due to his age being stronger than the opposition, unless Goodman had circumvented the security that surrounded the favourite Ratan and nobbled him – the horse did run poorly – it remains hard to understand how Goodman and his confederates could be confident of victory.
To add to their apprehension Lord George Bentinck and others were suspicious Running Rein was a ringer from the previous season and many objections were made to the horse’s entry for the Derby. As the certificates for Running Rein and Leander were seemingly correct the Jockey Club ruled that both horses could run but if either won the stakes would be withheld until after an investigation.
My suspicion is that the Jockey Club wanted rid of Goodman and people like him from the sport and when Bentinck’s original objection failed it was decided to allow Running Rein to fulfil his Derby entry as any result would be a defeat for Goodman. If Running Rein won the Jockey Club could hold an investigation and in time bring a case against Goodman, or Wood, in a court of law. If Running Rein did not win Goodman would lose his substantial bets and would lose face, though as things unfolded Goodman never did stand trial.
Running Rein (Maccabeus) was certainly no certainty to win, and why was the saga allowed to continue when for months previously the Jockey Club might have stepped in and refused the Derby entry? I suspect a good deal of myth has enveloped the story and no little invention. What is certain is that in time Running Rein will appear as a film or drama series. It has all the right ingredients: an unscrupulous villain, skulduggery, a shady hero (Bentinck) and a trial. All it is missing is a Demelza.
GOING TO THE LAST
A HORSE RACING RELATED
COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES
SOON TO BE PAPERBACK.